Reading is an incredibly important skill to learn and improve for all language students. You can build your vocabulary and grammar knowledge, discover new facts about different cultures and history, and enjoy yourself at the same time! It can be scary and frustrating when trying to choose your first English book, so in this episode I’m going to give you 5 classic novel recommendations that are all available as graded readers designed for English learners!

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Vocabulary List 

To underestimate (v) – to fail to guess or understand the real cost, size, difficulty, etc. of something

They’ve seriously underestimated the cost of the building project

Rewarding (adj) – giving a reward, especially by making you feel satisfied that you have done something important or useful, or done something well

Teaching is a really rewarding career

Accomplishment (n) – something that is successful, or that is achieved after a lot of work or effort

There’s a feeling of accomplishment from having a job and all that goes with it

To simplify (v) – to make something less complicated and therefore easier to do or understand 

He tried to simplify the story for the younger audience

To grade (v) – to separate people of things into different levels of quality, size, importance, etc.

The fruit is washed and then graded by size

Satire (n) – a way of criticizing people or ideas in a humorous way, especially in order to make a political point, or a piece of writing that uses this style 

Her play was a satire on life in the 1980s

Undoubtedly (adv) – used to emphasize that something is true

She was undoubtedly the best candidate

“The more that you read, the more that you’ll know. The more that you know, the more places you’ll go” — Dr. Seuss.

I couldn’t agree more with this quote! You cannot underestimate the importance of reading. In our modern world, it seems like fewer and fewer people are reading books. Why do we need to pick up a book, when we can sit back, relax, and watch a few episodes of a netflix show or youtube channel? We can spend hours scrolling through our social media feeds, watching Tiktoks, or playing video games. Despite this, reading is still incredibly popular. In fact, due to the various coronavirus lockdowns in the UK, people are currently reading more and more books.

For English learners, reading is an excellent way of improving your language skills. Reading is rewarding! If you can read and understand a novel in a foreign language, it is a massive achievement. It can give you a feeling of accomplishment and really boost your confidence. Reading English novels will also help improve your vocabulary, general understanding and in some cases it may even give you more knowledge into different countries and their cultures. You can also decide your own pace. Podcasts, TV shows, and radio shows are also excellent ways of studying, but you have to keep up with the show’s English speed. While reading a book, you can read as quickly or slowly as you want! If you don’t understand something, you can read it again!

Moreover, reading will also open your mind and educate you. It is an excellent way to understand someone’s way of thinking. You may learn new information about language, culture, society, and history that you never knew before. Finally, reading is fun! It is an enjoyable and often relaxing way to study English! Often, reading doesn’t actually feel like studying!

It is clear that reading is something all English language students should do. However, many people really struggle to get started. It can be difficult to choose what book to start with, and really frustrating if you choose a book that is too advanced for your level.  Don’t worry – I’m here to help!! In the rest of this episode, I am going to recommend 5 different English books that I think would be great for you to read. There are lots of similar recommendation lists on the internet, but this list is a little different. Each of the books I will recommend is available as a graded reader. Graded readers, or sometimes just ‘readers,’ are books that have had the language level simplified to help learners read them. The language in the books is graded for vocabulary, complexity of grammar and also by the length of the books. Graded readers are available in levels ranging from beginners to advanced. Some popular brands include Penguin (which will be featured in this episode), Pearson, and Cambridge! 

So, after hearing my description of the books, you can select the one you think is most interesting and decide whether you want to try reading the full native version, or a version aimed at ESL students. I’ll include links to all books mentioned in the podcast description and on the Thinking in English blog! Most of the books are very affordable dn available to download as a kindle ebook on the free Amazon kindle app. In fact, i think some of the older books are actually free to download as ebooks! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you buy anything using my links, you will be helping to support the podcast!

Also, do not feel embarrassed about reading a graded reader. One of my students, who inspired this episode, decided she wanted to start reading earlier this year. Although her English level is excellent, she was a little nervous about reading in English as it was a skill she has barely practiced. I recommended her a few graded readers, and over the last few months she has moved from a a very basic beginners book about a piano, to reading the classic novels Animal Farm graded at level 3, level 4 Jane Eyre, and 1984 which was graded at level 7 (the highest level of graded reader offered by Penguin books). By choosing your first English books wisely, and if needed choosing a graded reader, you should have a very positive experience.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 

The first book I want to recommend is the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This is one of the classic books of 19th century American fiction. It is the story of a young boy as he travels through the USA. If you enjoy adventure books, perhaps this one will be great for you! Let me read you a brief description from Penguin book’s website.

“Someone killed Huckleberry Finn.” Everyone in the village of St. Petersburg will tell you this, but Huck Finn is not dead. He ran away. Now he is traveling down the great Mississippi river. Come with him on his adventures and meet many new people. Some of them are good, but some of them are very bad.

This book is available as a level 2 graded reader, (remember the most advanced Penguin readers are graded level 7). If you like this book, you could also pick up The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by the same author. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn –

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Graded Reader) –

Animal Farm

Animal Farm
Animal Farm

The next book on my list of Recommendations is Animal Farm by George Orwell.  I am a massive fan of George Orwell, and if you enjoy reading Animal Farm I really recommend you also check out his book 1984. I guess Animal Farm would be best described as a Political satire, as it uses animals to tell a political story!

Animal Farm tells the story of a rebellion by a group of farm animals and how it goes wrong. The animals’ lives on the farm are terrible – there is not enough food, the work is hard, and animals are dying. The book is loosely based on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union.

This book is available as a level 3 graded reader!

Animal Farm –

Animal Farm (Graded Reader) –

The Night Manager

The Night Manager
The Night Manager

Next on my list is an excellent example of one of my favourite genres; spy novels. It is The Night Manager by the famous writer John Le Carre. The first Le Carre novel I read was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I think was made into a very successful movie. Actually, The Night Manager was also made into a successful TV show if you’d like to watch the story on screen. Here is a short introduction.

Jonathan Pine is the Night Manager of a hotel in Egypt. When he is shown some secret information, he passes it to a man in the British government. But things go wrong and the woman he loves dies. Pine is very angry and agrees to work with others to catch Roger Roper – the “worst man in the world”.

This book is available as a level 5 graded reader. You might be noticing that the levels of readers are getting progressively higher. Level 5 readers include sentences with up to four clauses, and introduce present perfect continuous, past perfect, reported speech and second conditional.

The Night Manager –

The Night Manager (Graded Reader) –

Great Expectations

Great Expectations
Great Expectations

Charles Dickens was undoubtedly one of the greatest English language novelists to ever live. He wrote so many amazing books including a Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and a Tale of Two Cities. The book I want to recommend to you, however, is actually one I am currently listening to as an audiobook as I prepare for this episode. That book is Great Expectations.

When the orphan Pip is taken to the house of Miss Havisham, he meets and falls in love with Estella. Estella is beautiful but cold and Pip decides that he will become rich so that he can marry her. Later he learns that somebody has given him a lot of money, but Pip does not know who this person is.

This book is available as a level 6 graded reader. Level 6 graded readers have sentences with up to four clauses, introducing future continuous, reported questions, third conditional, was going to and ellipsis. 

Great Expectations –

Great Expectation (Graded Reader) –

Moby Dick

Moby Dick book
Moby Dick

The final book I want to recommend is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Like all of the books I have recommended, Moby Dick is a classic and important piece of English language literature. Here is a brief description for you! 

When the young sailor “Ishmael” decides to sail on the Pequod with the mysterious Captain Ahab, he has no idea about Ahab’s plans to get revenge on the great white whale Moby Dick. Ahab wants to find and kill the whale at any cost – even if it means losing his ship and his crew.

This book us available as a level 7 graded reader. This is the most advanced level of reader!

Moby Dick –

Moby Dick (Graded Reader) –

Final Thought 

In this episode I have recommended 5 classic English novels which are available as graded readers. These are excellent as they can help you to read classic pieces of literature, which would otherwise be too difficult. In fact, unless you are a very confident reader, I would really recommend picking up a graded reader first! If you find this list useful, I think I might make this a regular type of episode. If there is enough demand, perhaps we could start a Thinking in English book club in the future!!

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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